Just like our homes, our cars are a big part of our lives. As such, keeping them in good running condition is important. This involves maintaining both its exterior and interior.
The best car vacuum ensures that the inside of your sedan, SUV or truck stays neat and clean. It’s not just for appearance sake though. Vacuuming your car regularly keeps bacteria and allergens away as well. This means a healthier environment for you and your kids.
When it comes to choosing a vacuum for your car, these are the products we like.
Our Picks: The Top Choices for Your Car’s Interior
For Handheld Vacuums
- BLACK + DECKER CHV1410L – Our Top Pick
- Black+Decker BDH2000PL MAX – More Suction, Longer Battery Run Time
- Black & Decker PAV1200W – Plugs into car lighter
For Wet/Dry Vacuums
- Armor All 2.5 Gallon, 2 Peak HP Wet/Dry Vacuum, AA255 – Compact
- Vacmaster 12 Gallon, 5 Peak HP, Wet/Dry Vacuum, VBV1210 – Large Capacity, Garage Vacuum
- Vacmaster 2.5 Gallon, 2 Peak HP, Portable Wet/Dry Vacuum, VP205
- DEWALT DCV581H 18/20-Volt MAX Cordless/Corded Wet-Dry Vacuum
What is a Car Vacuum?
When it comes to vacuuming your car’s interior, there are a few kinds of cleaners that work well. Essentially, these are all considered car vacuum cleaners. The difference is how well they get the job done and how easy the device is to use.
Why It’s Hard to Vacuum Car Interiors
Cleaning the inside of your car isn’t the same as vacuuming floors. There are a lot more contours and crevices involved. In addition, the small space inside the vehicle makes it difficult to fit larger cleaners.
This is why an upright vacuum, which is very effective for floors, can’t be used as a car vacuum.
It might be tempting to use your own upright vacuum to clean your car or garage rather than deal with investing in an entirely new unit. However, you’ll soon find that the hassle of using a floor vacuum on an uneven surface or in a contained environment will outweigh the benefits of those savings.
There is one exception though. This is with upright vacuum cleaners that are fitted with extension hoses. If you get a device with a hose that’s long enough, you may be able to clean your car well. But often, the length of these hoses are limited to about 6 to 8 feet. This means you’ll be carrying and re-positioning the vacuum a lot.
The floor carpets are arguably the hardest to clean. This is especially true if your car comes with low quality carpeting.
Many good cars come with cheap “velcro-style” carpets. These are among the most difficult to clean. Dirt gets deep into the fibers. Vacuums also have a hard time sucking them out. Some examples of vehicles that have these are Volkswagens, Mazdas and Minis. Some Subaru and Nissan models also come with them.
Other carpets require regular vacuuming or else they get too dirty. Toyota carpets for example, when cleaned frequently, are easy to maintain. But let them get dirty enough and cleaning becomes troublesome.
The issue with floor mats and carpets is that they absorb all the mess you step on. This includes mud, dirt, soil and everything else. Car carpets like your home’s rugs have plush, thick fibers. This makes them trap dirt and debris more.
Left uncleaned for long periods, dirt and debris embed themselves deep in the fabric. This means you’ll need a vacuum with a good brush roll and strong suction.
Depending on how much you use your vehicle, these can be very dirty or relatively clean. In general, car seats accumulate the most dirt and dust. They are a bit easier to clean than carpets because the dirt isn’t embedded too deep.
If you eat in your car, you’ll notice a lot of crumbs go into the nooks and crevices. Kids also put their feet on the seats which transfers whatever’s in their shoes to the covers.
The problem with cleaning seats are the contours. This is why removing the covers is and patting them outside the car helps a lot.
A vacuum with a hose is ideal in these situations. The most useful accessories include crevice and upholstery tools. If your dog or cat rides in your car, the pet hair tool works wonders in removing hair and dander.
The dashboard may look cleaner than your car’s seat or floor. But, it has small dust and dirt particles there as well. Since it houses the electronics, there’s a good amount of static charge around it. This charge attracts the fine pieces of dirt and dust, making them click to the dashboard and front panel.
Don’t Forget the Trunk
Finally, there’s the trunk. Technically, you may not consider this your car’s interior. But, giving it a thorough cleaning helps. This is especially true if you put a lot and junk in there. And, leave your grocery and produce there too.
Like the dashboard, a vacuum with a hose works well. You can also use a brush tool on the areas that have felt. This helps remove dirt that’s stuck on the surface.
How to Vacuum Your Car
To understand the issues that come with vacuuming your vehicle, here’s a useful video tutorial from a professional on how to clean your car’s interior.
Why Use a Car Vacuum?
A clean car interior looks nice and neat. If you have guests or passengers, this is a quick way to make a good impression.
Besides appearance, there are other more important reasons why you should vacuum and clean the interior of your car regularly.
- It gets rid of odors.
- Vacuuming eliminates allergens and contaminants that can trigger allergies or illness.
- It keeps your clothes from getting dirty when you sit inside your car.
- It prolongs the life of the plastic and carpets.
- A clean interior increases the value of your car when you sell it.
With the right tools, you’ll be able to properly maintain and detail your vehicle’s interior.
Types of Vacuums for Your Car
When it comes to vehicle and car vacuum cleaners, these are the types that work best.
1. Canister Vacuums
In terms of power, a canister vacuum is the most similar to an upright vacuum. It is also a classic garage fixture. The reason for this is that it is well suited for cleaning your car’s interior. This is thanks to its compact size and light weight.
The advantage of this type of vacuum is its suction power and versatility. They tend to be more easily navigated than upright vacuums. Plus, the long hose allows you to get to different areas of the vehicle.
Additionally, almost all come with various attachments. These accessories give you easy access to all the nooks and crevices of your car.
2. Handheld Vacuums
Handheld vacuums are another popular option. The advantage here is a lightweight appliance. Its small size makes it easy to maneuver. Plus, you only need one hand to control it.
Another upside of handheld units is their portability and easy storage. They don’t take up as much space as a canister vacuum. This means hand vacs can be kept inside or in the trunk of your car.
However, a main drawback of handheld vacuums is suction. Power will vary dramatically from unit to unit. Often, it is determined by its power source. Some handheld vacs are run on battery power. Others, hook up to the car’s cigarette lighter. Both don’t pack as much power when compared to corded units.
In general, hand vacuums also come with smaller motors and dirt capacity. As such, they don’t perform as well as canister vacuums.
3. Do You Need a Corded, Cordless or Cigarette Lighter Powered Vacuum?
When it comes to power source, you have three options: corded, cordless, or cigarette lighter plug-in.
- Cordless vacuums are great for cleaning small areas like your vehicle’s interior. It’s not limited by the length of the cord. They’re also ideal for emergencies. This is due to their cordless nature. But, there’s the issue of battery run time. In addition, their suction and filtration are largely dependent on price. These types of vacuums come in a wide range of prices. You’ll see products ranging from under $30 to upwards of $100. The choice comes down to preference and personal needs.
- Cigarette lighter adapter vacuums are limited to 120 watts since these sockets offer only 10 amps. This should be a decent amount of power for an average sized car on an average cleaning session. But, you should also consider the fact that you are now limited by the power cord. And, the effect the vacuum will have on your car’s battery.
- Corded vacuums offer the most power. Since you’ll need an electric outlet, corded car vacuums are often canister types. This is compared to the handheld cordless and cigarette lighter adapter vacuums. Both of these have less power than the canister vac which plugs into a wall outlet. This allows for a bigger, stronger motor that will operate with more suction for a long period of time. They also have the best filtration, largest dust bins and widest selection of attachments. As such, they are ideal for home garages since cord length can be an issue.
4. Wet & Dry Vacuums: Do You Need to Clean Fluids?
One popular type for car cleaning and garage use are wet/dry vacuums. Technically, they’re like canister vacuums. There are some differences between the two though.
Wet/dry vacuums are very practical in workshops and garages. In addition to cleaning dry objects, they give you the ability to clean up spills and wet messes. They’re great at picking up crumbs, sawdust, and other heavy duty garage debris as well.
Thus, these are a good option if you want to clean your garage or workshop in addition to your car. That’s because they have the capacity to do all these jobs.
A drawback of wet/dry vacs is that, due to their superior strength, they tend to be extremely loud. Some can get as loud as 85 decibels. At this level, it is recommended that you wear ear protection to mitigate the possible side effects of prolonged exposure to sounds this loud.
Another thing to consider with this kind of vacuum cleaner is they’re size. Because they’re capable of picking larger dirt particles and liquids, they need more storage space. Typically, they’re shaped like a vertical canister vacuum or a barrel.
5. Upright Vacuum with a Detachable Canister
Among the upright vacuums, this is the only one that’s effective for cleaning car interiors. Some will argue that an upright with the hose is sufficient. Unfortunately, uprights only come with hoses that are up to 6 feet long. Many are shorter.
This does work to a point. It also does mean a lot of moving around. You’ll have to keep positioning the vacuum around the car to get to all the areas. Technically, it works. But, it isn’t the best way to go about it.
Upright vacuums with detachable canisters meanwhile, let you move freely. You can carry the canister while you clean inside your car. This makes it convenient and simple. Best of all, you have the power of a full-sized upright unit.
Choosing a Car Vacuum: Buying Guide
This is our buyer’s guide to choosing the best vacuum for your car or vehicle.
1. Type of Vacuum: At Home or on the Road?
Whether you’ll be using the vacuum at home in your garage or away from home will determine what type of vacuum you get.
Of course, you may get more than one vacuum cleaner. One for each purpose. For example, a bigger vacuum for a more thorough cleaning you do once or twice a week. And, another smaller vacuum for quick cleanups.
Thorough Cleaning at Home
For thorough cleaning jobs or one used in your garage, a full-sized vacuum is the best option. Our top vacuum types are:
- A canister vacuum with a long hose.
- An upright with a detachable canister module.
- The handheld stick. Some examples include the Shark Rocket models or Dyson V series.
- A shop vac or wet/dry vacuum. This is ideal if you need to deal with liquids or wet cleaning.
These give you suction power, good reach and versatility.
Because of their size and corded nature, they work best in a workshop or home garage environment. They’re bigger and heavier. But, they also pack more power. These devices will let you thoroughly clean your car.
Quick Clean Ups on Away from Home
For quick clean ups and small messes while on the road a handheld vacuum is your best option.
Ideally, handheld vacuums for vehicles are those that run on battery power or plug into the cigarette adapter. These can be used without an electrical outlet. And, operate when emergencies happen.
They’re more compact. And, they don’t need to be plugged into a standard power outlet. They do have less suction power. But, depending on how much time you’re willing to spend vacuuming your car, may let you get a complete cleaning.
2. Size of Your Car
The bigger your car, the bigger vacuum you’ll need.
- Canister and handhelds are able to handle compact and luxury sedans well.
- For large SUVs, trucks and RVs, you’ll want to go with a full-sized vacuum. Handhelds may do the job. But, it will take much longer.
3. Corded or Cordless
If you decide to go a cordless vacuum, there are two factors to consider: battery run time and charge length.
- Battery run time tells you how long the vacuum can operate with a full charge. Most cordless vacuums have run times between 10 and 20 minutes. On average, 12 to 15 minutes.
- Charge time is how long it takes to get a full charge. Again, this varies quite a bit. Ideally, you’ll want one that takes less than 4 hours. Some will go as much as 12 hours or more. You’ll want to avoid those.
4. Suction & Cleaning Ability
The good news is you don’t need a lot a suction. This is the reason why handhelds that are cordless and those that plug into the cigarette adapter are enough to clean your vehicle’s interior.
The only area of your vehicle that requires more suction is the carpeting. This is because the dirt particles tend to get stuck deep in the fabric.
But, if your vacuum has a brush roll, it shouldn’t be a big problem. Vehicle carpets aren’t too thick. They’re also low pile. This makes most vacuums with a brush roll effective. You may need to go through them a few times to get a thorough clean, especially if they’re dirty.
With seat covers, too much suction can be a bad thing. They’ll cause the fabric to stick to the hose. So, instead of cleaning you’re wrestling with the vacuum and seat cover.
Another feature to consider is the dirt capacity. Depending on how much dirt and dust you collect, you may need one with a bigger dirt bin. Car seats and carpeting have the most dirt and debris. As such, you’ll want something that has enough capacity so you don’t need to keep emptying the bin.
Do consider the vacuum’s filtration system. This is especially important in car vacuums since allergens and irritants can easily get inside of vehicles through air vents and open windows.
Additionally, the space inside of your vehicle is small. When vacuuming inside your car, poor filtration allows a lot of the dust sucked in to escape back into the air. This can trigger allergies and leave your car’s interior filled with allergens.
A vacuum with good filtration meanwhile, will remove these particles from your car and allow for the cleanest, most comfortable environment.
6. Tools & Attachments
Due to all the curves and contours in your car, using the right nozzle makes a big difference.
- Brush rolls that agitate the carpeting makes cleaning the floors easier.
- Upholstery tools and pet tools allow you to thoroughly clean car seats.
- A crevice tool lets you get into the edges and tight areas.
- Brushes let you vacuum the fabric and softer surfaces.
Best Car Vacuum Reviews
This is a compact unit that’s design for cleaning the interior of your car. It does a sufficient job for the outside as well. We like that it handles both wet and dry objects. This is especially useful when dealing with vehicle cleaning.
The unit looks like a standard canister vacuum, except that it stands vertical instead of horizontal. This lets it store the dirt and liquid like a trash bin.
The unit has a 2.5 gallon capacity, which makes it among the smaller wet/dry vacuums around. You get a 6 foot long hose that’s powered by a 2 peak horsepower motor. This gives you good suction for most liquids and dirt particles.
Note that its power doesn’t match up to the bigger wet and dry vacuums as expected. After all, it’s not designed for that, and it’s much cheaper. This makes it practical and affordable.
The best part about this vacuum are the attachments. These are especially helpful because of all the contours inside the car. They let you get to all the different nooks and crannies.
Among the accessories you get are:
- Car nozzle
- Crevice tool
- Blower nozzle
One of our complaints is that it has no wheels. Adding wheels would have made it easier to move around the garage or inside the back of your SUV.
If you need to handle bigger messes, this is a more practical option. This device is considerably larger than the Armor All wet dry vacuum above. Due to this, it also means that you can clean up a lot more with it.
We like this for anyone who not only wants to use the vacuum for their vehicles but also to keep their garage in neat and tide.
You get good power for picking up both small and large objects. Plus, it handles liquids well. This is thanks to its 5 horsepower motor. The Vacmaster VBV1210 wet/dry vacuum comes with a 7 foot long hose and a large 12 gallon collection bin.
Because of the large capacity, it does take up a bit of space. This makes it difficult to squeeze into storage cabinets if you don’t have big ones.
We do like that the device can transform into a 210 mph blower. This feature lets you use it in the garage and yard as well for blowing off things.
Overall, this is a solid and sturdy wet/dry vacuum. We love the added blower feature as well. It works well for both small and big jobs. Plus, it’s relatively quiet compared to most wet and dry vacuum cleaners.
The bigger wet/dry vacuums above are great for overall cleaning. But when you want to be able to quickly clean stuff up, a smaller handheld vacuum works better.
Our top choice for this purpose is the Black & Decker PAV1200W. We like that it comes with a cigarette lighter adapter. This lets you plug the device into your car’s cigarette lighter for power. There’s no charging or recharging needed.
This is a portable handheld vacuum with good suction power. It’s perfect to use in your car because of the cigarette lighter adapter. In addition, you get a number of tools that can be attached to the nozzle to get to hard to reach areas.
Speaking of the nozzle, we love that it has a wide, flat opening. This makes it easy to clean the seats and dashboard. The pivoting head also lets you adjust its position to get to those awkward spots.
Super easy to use with excellent suction, this is a top choice as far as portable vacuums for your car.
If you prefer the more standard cordless handheld vacuum, that works too. Unlike the Black & Decker PAV1200W though, you do need to remember getting its battery charged. Otherwise, it doesn’t do you any good.
Because it’s cordless it does a have advantages.
1. You can use it anywhere, not just in your car.
2. When cleaning your car, you can clean the interior, trunk or the exterior. The latter is something that the Black & Decker PAV1200W can’t do due to cord length limitations.
On the other hand, besides having to remember to charge it, here are a few disadvantages it has compared to the Black & Decker PAV1200W.
1. Its smaller nozzle doesn’t cover as much space. This means you be doing more passes to cover all areas.
2. The battery is integrated into the device. This means that you’ll need to stop working when the battery is low and needs charging.
This Black & Decker unit runs on lithium ion batteries. It has a different shaped nozzle. The longer, slimmer design makes it perfect for getting into tight areas inside your car.
This is another handheld vac that comes with good suction power. You get a good sized dirt cup and easy to use design.
Black & Decker BDH1200FVAV 12V Flexi Automotive Vacuum
For extended reach, here’s another option. This is a compact canister style car vacuum that comes with a hose. Like the Black & Decker PAV1200W it uses the vehicle’s cigarette lighter socket for power.
This device is designed to be a car vacuum. As such it is compact and plugs into the car’s lighter socket. We really like its 4 foot long flexible hose. This lets you reach under the seats and in between the seats. The 16 foot long cord also helps allowing you to easily reach different sections on the car’s interiors.
The unit is lightweight as just over 3 pounds. It measures 6.5 inches long, 11.9 inches high and 10.8 inches wide.
The Black & Decker BDH1200FVAV does a good job for vacuuming dirt, dust and small debris inside the car. The added accessories like the wide nozzle and crevice tool let you adjust the nozzle as needed.
One of the things we don’t like is its small bin. For handheld units, we understand why the dust cup needs to be small. But at around half a liter in capacity, it quickly fills up especially if you go through the floor carpets in your car.
Another weak point is power. It doesn’t do a good job with pet hair. This isn’t a big deal if your dog doesn’t shed though.
Overall, you get good value for your money. This is a cheap car vacuum that offers extended reach.
Ultimately, your decision should be based on the messes you foresee dealing with. Everyday messes like crumbs, dust, and allergens will be no test against a handheld vacuum. If you’re more likely to deal with spills and large scale muck, you may want to consider a more heavy-duty canister vacuum.